Hospital considers halt to GP blood test service

A leading public hospital has warned it will no longer carry out blood tests for GPs or send staff payslips in the post in an attempt to save frontline services from budget cuts.

In another sign of the tight financial conditions facing the health service, South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital in Cork City is considering the moves as part of a major cost containment drive.

At a board meeting of the hospital in March, chief executive Gerard O’Callaghan said the policies — which also include plans to increase costs for patients — are needed in light of financial constraints apparent throughout the system.

Minutes from the board meeting, obtained by trade newspaper the Medical Independent, said Mr O’Callaghan’s plan was to “cease the practice of blood testing for GPs” in a bid to cut costs.

No timeline has been confirmed for the issue, which relates to an on-going dispute between GPs and the Government over whether local doctors can charge for blood tests or not.

While the GPs involved have said they should be allowed to charge because it is an additional service, those opposed to the new policy have suggested the real reason is to supplement these doctors’ falling income levels.

Many GPs across the country have since told patients who want the tests but do not want to pay, to go to hospital to have the procedure carried out.

This places an extra cost on hospitals, which is understood to be the reason for the clampdown at the South Infirmary.

In another sign of the tight financial conditions facing the health service, the minutes also show hospital management are no longer sending staff pay slips in the post in an attempt to cut down on postage costs.

Commenting on the moves during the meeting, Mr O’Callaghan “again highlighted the need to cut costs and increase income this year if we are to avoid reducing our services”.

The senior official also warned that consultants at the facility must ensure they sign-off on VHI insurance forms in a more “timely manner”.

The issue is an ongoing problem for hospitals across Ireland as it leads to significant amounts of money being lost.

A HSE internal audit on the matter, released in January, found 18 doctors at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar were inadvertently adding to taxpayers’ woes by failing to fill out private patient paperwork, which is then wrongly written off as “bad debt”.

The Irish Examiner contacted Cork’s South Infirmary for comment on Thursday morning, but were told that evening an IT error at the hospital meant the query did not arrive.

Despite confirming the questions had arrived by yesterday morning, the hospital had yet to respond by last night. Among the questions asked were:

* What potential ways to increase income from patients are being considered?

* When will the blood test and pay slip moves take place and how much money are the services currently costing the hospital?

* How much money is being lost through late insurance form paperwork?

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